When you think Christmas, you probably think recently deceased Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, no? No, you probably don’t, but he made a Christmas record all the same in 2011 (see his “Winter Wonderland” video above). You might say critics didn’t love it, but that’s not really the point. Artists often record Christmas records as novelty items for shoppers on a tear to snatch up and shove in the basket with other last-minute detritus. It seems like common wisdom that if you get your Christmas album on a Starbucks or Target product display, you’ll probably have a pretty happy new year.
But then there are the rare exceptions, Christmas albums made with care, by artists who surely wanted to make money, but who also made something uniquely great of well-worn holiday classics, or penned new ones of their own. There is, of course, the mostly instrumental jazz greatness of Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. But have you heard instrumental surf-rock legends The Ventures Christmas album? It’s outstanding. You’re intimately familiar with The Jackson 5’s brilliant soul renditions of songs like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” but you haven’t yet begun to yuletide, I say, until you’ve put on James Brown’s Funky Christmas, featuring such original tunes as “Go Power at Christmas Time” and the heartfelt plea on behalf of impoverished kids, “Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto.”
We’ve got these albums and many more greats—from Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley etc.—compiled in the Spotify playlist above, where they rub shoulders with unexpected gems from indie band Low, punk rockers Bad Religion, and horror legend Christopher Lee, whose Heavy Metal Christmas and Heavy Metal Christmas Too should be required listening at every holiday party. Hosting one of your own? Pull up our playlist of Christmas music worth hearing, hit play, and enjoy many quality hours of jazz, funk, country, soul, and rock and roll cheer and tidings. These suggestions come to us via Rolling Stone, Complex, and our readers on Twitter. If you need to download Spotify’s software, get it here. You can find a complete list of the albums below, with links to purchase them, should you need a last minute gift.